Lost Boys in Chicago – survivors of refugee resettlement agencies
Posted by Christopher Coen on February 3, 2010
Below is an article about the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ in Chicago. Some of the first ‘Lost Boys’ refugees I met in 2001 were in Chicago, including Peter Magai, the man pictured in the article.
At that time I was traveling through the city taking some ‘Lost Boys’ from North Dakota to visit their friends in Michigan. The young men in Chicago told me that they were not happy. When I asked them what was wrong, they complained bitterly of the treatment by their refugee resettlement agency – the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights (HA) – a USCRI affiliate. They said that the resettlement agency placed them in a dangerous neighborhood where they were being attack by hoodlums on the street, placed them in run-down and dirty apartments, that they could not get any effective treatment for the stomach pain some of them were having (schistosomiasis), and when they went to the HA employment specialist to complain that he was not helping them to look for jobs, he told them he could send them back to Africa if they didn’t like the job he was doing.
I forwarded these complaints to HA and had rude employees just laugh and hang up. I contacted the HA refugee director and she, also before hanging up on me, told me she could not guarantee that the young men would be taken to the doctor. Being polite but insistent was getting me nowhere.
I contacted the U.S. State Department and they were outraged that I dared to express frustration by the layers of useless bureacrats I had been through. After a month or two they finally arrived to investigate. The State Department monitors – young women dressed in expensive clothes and who stayed at one of the most expensive downtown Chicago hotels – told me they didn’t believe most of the refugees’ complaints. They also said the neighborhoods where HA had placed the refugees were safe. Period. End of discussion.
The State Department monitors said they would send me a copy of their final monitoring when they completed it. They then never sent me a copy. I had to do a FOIA and wait a year. When I finally got ahold of their report I was surprised (I used to be naive) to see that they had ommitted most of the refugees’ reports of neglect. I have written an analysis of the quality of this inspection report (see here), and of the quality of the so-called investigation done by the State Department.
Yet, I later did a FOIA and found a year-2000 State Department monitoring report in which State Department monitors noted that thugs attacked other ‘Lost Boys’ in their apartment buildings – one refugee was hospitalized as a result – and that a resettlement agency had failed to note this in their case files, and the director of the agency failed to mention it to the monitors.
A month after the State Department monitors dismissed our concerns, the Latin Kings gang attacked a group of ‘Lost Boys’ while they played basketball at a park in the neighborhood. The gang beat the young men with fists, metal rods, and coke bottles and stabbed three of the refugees.
I realized then that the State Department and the Illinois refugee coordinator had absolutely no interest in accurately documenting the abuses that the refugees were experiencing. If anything, these so-called government oversight agencies were simply acting in defense of highly irresponsible and unethical actions on the part of the resettlement agencies.
If anyone was going to speak the truth about our resettlement program it would only be concerned citizens. Hence, this group and this blog.
Lost Boys vote in Chicago to inspire change in Sudan
by Heather Somerville
Feb 02, 2010
Peter Magai Bul, one of the Sudanese refugees known as the Lost Boys, is leading efforts to spread awareness about Sudan’s presidential election this spring. He works with Lost Boys and activists at Truman College, where a grassroots event on Jan. 31 drew hundreds of participants.
Chicago’s Lost Boys of Sudan are setting an example for their families in Sudan by voting in Tuesday’s local primary election.
The refugees, exiled during the Sudanese civil war, never voted in their country. As the first in their families to cast a ballot, they are educating Sudanese about the importance of voting to create change. This at a time when Sudan is about to hold its first presidential election in more than two decades.
“The Lost Boys always take responsibility and are always looking for changes,” said Peter Magai Bul, 27, a Lost Boy and community activist. “They are doing this as citizens of the United States. You will see them voting in every election.”
Many Lost Boys, orphans named for their trek across Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya during the war, voted early in the Chicago primaries, and those who didn’t said they would be at the polls Tuesday.
“It’s something that we don’t want to miss,” said Malual Awak, president of the Sudanese Community Association of Illinois.
Hundreds of Lost Boys from across the Midwest gathered at Truman College on Sunday to discuss Sudan’s upcoming election, call for an independent Southern Sudan and celebrate their birthdays. Because most of them do not have birth certificates, upon arrival in America they were assigned Jan. 31 as their collective birthday.
According to a 2008 survey by the United African Organization – a Chicago-based advocacy organizatoin – more than 90 percent of the estimated 30,000 naturalized African immigrants and refugees in metropolitan area vote in every election. They are interested in participating in every level,” said executive director Alie Kabba.
Voting is a way for refugees to become integrated into American society, and it also signifies freedom from the oppression many left behind in Africa, Kabba said.
“African refugees generally tend to come from countries with authoritarian regimes,” Kabba said. “One of the first things that they want to do here is demonstrate their yearning for a democratic society. It is a way for them to really call this place home.”
Voting has taken on an even greater significance for the Lost Boys, who hope to encourage their families to participate in Sudan’s first free presidential election in April after more than 20 years of single-party rule. “We vote to make a difference,” said Jacob Maker Dier, who became a citizen in 2007. “It’s setting an example (for our families). They have to show up.”
The Sudanese election was mandated by the 2005 peace agreement that ended the country’s 22-year civil war between the north and the south. The outcome of the election will have important significance. Some candidates are pushing for Southern Sudan’s secession, which will be decided in a referendum in 2011.
More than 150 Lost Boys have relocated to Chicago since 2001. They’ve made the city a stronghold for Sudanese activism, calling for a free and fair election in Sudan through organized events at universities and churches. Magai Bul, founder of Ayual Community Development Association, a non-profit dedicated to improving life in Southern Sudan, recently returned from a five-week trip to the country to educate residents about the voting process. Now he’s spreading his message through Facebook and Twitter.
“I’ve seen the consequences of when people are not allowed to participate,” Magai Bul said. “The consequence is war.”
Most of the population of Southern Sudan will not be allowed to vote, however. The Sudan government requires that voters present a passport, and many civilians lost any government identification they had during the war. The Lost Boys, who could theoretically vote in the Sudan election in absentia, also do not have Sudanese passports, but U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Akec Khoc said they will be able to apply for documentation at registration centers in Chicago in time to vote on the independence referendum next year.